Monday, May 2, 2016

Students' Voices at the IWP Writing Palooza

What happens when students, teachers, parents, and grandparents come together in the same space to write and share?  The Illinois Writing Project hosted a Writing Palooza on Saturday, April 30 to find out the answer to that question.  What we discovered far surpassed our expectations.

The Writing Palooza event featured Adrienne Gibbs as the keynote speaker to jump start our day on writing.  She shared lines of poetry from noted authors and some of her own writing from middle school.  Everything and anything can be a story, she encouraged, and writing flourishes when writers discuss their works together.

The morning and afternoon writing sessions and workshops included poetry, soapbox speeches, and memoirs for grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8.  In the poetry sessions I attended or facilitated, parents and teachers were encouraged to join in the writing and discussions.  The primary focus, though, was empowering students' voices.  

In the middle grades poetry session, R.J. with the Young Chicago Authors invited introductions from everyone.  These introductions were slightly different in that he asked us to rate the day on a scale of 1-10 and share one thing we often think about but do not get to talk about.  How powerful it was for students (and teachers and parents) to answer this question!  Students around the room identified environmental concerns, worries about their neighborhoods, world events, self-destruction, and other issues they have weighing on their minds with no outlet for conversation.  A common thread wove its way across the room.  Yet this space was different than their more familiar settings of school and after school activities--here, students could discuss and, better yet, write.

One girl in our afternoon poetry session rated the day a 10.  I wondered what made this day shine so brightly for her.  Was it her morning session on writing memoirs, perhaps?  Was it the lunch led by The Chicago Community Trust with information about leading #onthetable2016 civic community conversations?  Or maybe she was there with friends who had also found an outlet for their writing passions.  I did not have the chance to ask her, but I did get to hear what she had to say.

The IWP Writing Palooza culminated with an author share in the auditorium where Adrienne Gibbs began our day.  A few of our youngest eagerly started the line, and we watched with amazement as the line perpetually grew longer and never shorter.  The thirty minutes allotted for this part of the day grew into forty-five.  Students shared narratives about their first roller coaster adventures and soapbox speeches about playground repairs or ugly words on bathroom stalls.  And poetry.  Their poetry, like what was written by the girl in the earlier session and the one by another girl, pointed out the unfairness of stereotypes and made me wish a whole community could fit into that auditorium to hear what these students had to say.

I am excited that the Writing Palooza might become an annual event.  But what I realized even more at the end of this incredible day was that students need more than just one annual event for their voices to be heard.  Where is our daily palooza joining communities of students, teachers, and parents together to write and share?